What Are The Benefits Of On-Board Duty Free Shopping?

Duty Free Shopping

Dear Essential Travel,
What are the pros and cons of buying duty free items on an aeroplane, as opposed to buying them at an airport? I always hear the announcement for duty free shopping while in the air and wonder if passengers are being offered exactly the same goods at the same prices that are found at most international airports. Is this the case?
Debra Downing, Windsor

Dear Debra,

To give you a short answer, yes. In-flight duty free shopping is almost exactly the same as shopping inside the airport. All the same principles apply when buying goods in the air. There is no duty tax added on to anything you buy, but the various companies that supply airlines can still set their own prices, which are occasionally higher than regular rates.

Luxury Shopping Vs. Bargain Hunting

Most travellers aren't interested in bargain hunting when buying duty free items. It's a luxury, there to kill time, spice up the journey and rescue people who haven't bought their loved ones something nice. If you are interested in buying goods for record-low prices when duty free shopping, you should ask yourself three questions before you take out your wallet:

  • Can I buy this cheaper online? The online world is full of incredible deals that have lifted the veil on duty free shopping. Even items like alcohol are available online for up to 60% off retail prices.

  • What would I pay for this at a high street shop? Know what the retail price of things is back home - it might be exactly the same.

  • Is the exchange rate in my favour? Sometimes the exchange rate is particularly good or bad. When the GBP is riding high, deals in smaller countries are there for the taking. When our money is going through a dip, duty free bargains are harder to come by.

Pros Of Airport Duty Free Shopping

Certain airports impose rules that prohibit stores from selling duty free items at standard high street prices, but this isn't the international standard practice. Sometimes you will find incredible deals that outdo shops on your local high street, while other times the prices are the same, if not higher. At the end of the day, the shops are owned by people who need to make a profit, so the prices won't always be better - but you get lucky sometimes.

Pros Of Airline Duty Free Shopping

It's convenient. Companies who sell duty free items on airlines are simply offering their goods at a different point in the journey, to cater for travellers who haven’t had the time to browse at the airport – those who have had to rush to make a connecting flight, or people who rather spend their layover getting lunch than shopping. Again, huge bargains can be found, but it takes a savvy buyer to sniff them out.

Are you a big duty free shopper? Let us know on Facebook if you prefer to shop duty free in the airport or in-flight. Alternatively, you can drop us a comment in the box below.

Last Updated: August 2012

Clayton Truscott

Clayton Truscott

Clayton is a comfortable traveller, having grown up in a small city that was far away from everything. He spent lots of time in the car as a child, driving up and down the coast of South Africa on surfing trips with his family. After studying abroad in the United States and spending a year working in London, he moved to Cape Town, where he completed a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. He now works as a freelance writer for various travel, surfing and action sports publications.